Charges Dropped Against Mississippi Man in Ricin Case

The federal ricin investigation stumbles, and a false alarm spooks Capitol Hill.

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Lauren Wood / Daily Journal / REUTERS

Federal officials hold up the key before entering the house of Paul Kevin Curtis to search for evidence in Corinth, Mississippi April 18, 2013.

Prosecutors have dropped charges against a Mississippi man arrested last week and accused of sending ricin-laced letters to President Obama and a Republican senator.

Hours after Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, was released from custody Tuesday afternoon, a U.S. attorney formally dismissed the charges in a court filing, noting that the “ongoing investigation has revealed new information.”

At a press conference Tuesday evening after charges against him were dropped, Curtis reiterated his innocence. “I respect President Obama. I love my country, and would never do anything to pose a threat to him or any other U.S. official,” he said. “This past week has been a nightmare for myself and my family.”

A day after federal authorities announced that Obama and Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi were sent letters that tested positive for ricin last week, officials arrested Curtis and charged him with sending a letter containing a threat and designed to “inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States.” The missives, postmarked Memphis, contained the words: “To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance/I am KC and I approve this message.”  The last line matched a phrase from the Facebook page of Curtis, an eccentric musician and Elvis impersonator whom local authorities have portrayed as an anti-government conspiracy theorist.

Curtis, who told reporters he had been through “20 or so” lawyers over the past 13 years, maintained his innocence since the arrest. His current lawyer claimed her client was framed. The case began crumble; at a hearing on Monday, an FBI agent testified that no evidence – either traces of the poison or a means of making it — had been recovered from searches of Curtis’s home in Corinth, Miss., or his car.

On Tuesday  another Mississippi man, J. Everett Dutschke, told the Associated Press that the FBI had searched his home in connection with the investigation. Dutschke told the news organization he did not send the letters, which evoked unsettling memories of a rash of domestic ricin plots in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The surprise twist in the ricin case came amid disquieting reports Tuesday of another possible ricin attack at a military base in Washington, where a routine screening at the mail-sorting facility of the Defense Intelligence Agency, headquartered at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, indicated possible biological toxins. The alarm was relayed to reporters in the Capitol Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who said an incident involving the “same substance” as last week’s ricin attacks had been reported. But a DIA spokesman, Lt. Col. Thomas F. Veale, later said the scare had been a false alarm.

“Today, DIA’s mail screening equipment alerted officials to the possible presence of a potentially harmful substance,” Veale said in a statement. “After thorough on-scene investigation, no suspicious packages or letters were located.  The FBI took samples and will conduct further testing off-site.”